The Hippie Smell: An Introduction to Patchouli Fragrances
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Patchouli is not something that one frequently associates with girly, feminine fragrances, but it’s become so common in recent perfume blockbusters that I’m starting to see it as the aldehyde of the early 21st Century, and something our daughters and grand-daughters will associate with fragrances in “our century”.
This tropical Asian bush-herb was used for centuries in incense, insect repellents, and alternative medicines, and belongs to the mint family. The smell itself is not exactly like mint, although it does share some similar facets. Words to describe how it smells include earthy, green, pungent, sharp, and mossy. If you’ve ever smelt patchouli essential oil before, you’ll know it’s not easy to describe in one or two words.
It’s seldom ever the star attraction in fragrances; in fact, many people are turned off by how strong and herbal it can be. But when used well, it’s one of those things that subtly enhance a perfume and give it that “something extra”. I liken it to aldehydes because Ernest Beaux used it to “lift” and lighten the heavy, overly-sweet scents of rich flowers, the way you throw carbonated water into syrup to get sparkling soda. Similarly, patchouli is being used these days to soften and add complexity to some of the most popular scents around.
Victor & Rolf Flowerbomb
One of the biggest hits in the past few years, Flowerbomb has managed to convert a whole legion of young women over to the floral camp. (For some reason, young women of today seem to find flowers “old-ladyish”, probably because their mothers and grandmothers wore more floral scents back in the day when gourmand and fruity notes weren’t popular or easily available yet. I personally don’t associate smells with age so I’ll wear Chanel No 19 one day and Britney Spears Fantasy the next.)
Flowerbomb manages to be very sweet and kinda yummy without actually containing food notes, and underpinning everything is that soft, fresh patchouli to stop it from becoming just another floral.
I don’t own it because I think they’re charging way too much for what it is (I think it’s very nice, but I don’t think it’s ground-breaking enough to warrant that price-tag), but never say never!
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle
Coco Mademoiselle has been a consistent top-seller for years.
Patchouli is what gives this oriental fruity-floral that interesting character of being girly, yet a little boyish at the same time. It’s filled with tons of very rich and sweet flowers on top of a vanillic base, but everything’s cut with that veil of sharp, fresh green-ness. Patchouli diffuses further than a lot of other notes, so people who smell it may find it quite masculine and cologne-like, and only detect the sweeter, warmer tones when they hug you.
Off-topic: one of my strange pet peeves is hearing people say “Coco Chanel Mademoiselle” or “Chanel Mademoiselle”. The fragrance line is based on original fragrance Coco. And this is the flanker Coco Mademoiselle.
Spicier, more floral, and not quite as sweet in the drydown as Coco Mademoiselle, the patchouli here is paired with pink pepper for an opening kick. If you prefer a crisp white shirt to a lacy blouse, you’re probably more of a Chance girl than a Mademoiselle.
Dior Midnight Poison
The wicked witch of the bunch. Midnight Poison is a VERY sharp, spicy rose, and interestingly fresh and dark at the same time. If you’re a guy who likes women’s scents or a woman who doesn’t like girly ones, Midnight Poison is the in-between that has big personality and doesn’t smell at all like a compromise between two genres.
Juliette Has a Gun - Lady Vengeance
With a more prominent rose than any of the above fragrances, Lady Vengeance is a sweeter, less complicated patchouli-based floral. Without the patchouli, a rose-vanilla scent can smell quite heavy. If you like Stella and want something a bit darker and creamier, try this.
Thierry Mugler Angel
I felt compelled to not list this right at the top, simply because it’s so over-mentioned already. As I mentioned before, Angel is the ORIGINAL patchouli-bomb. Unlike most of the other scents, the patchouli here is not content to sit at the sidelines and cheer on the fruits and the flowers. The patchouli here is green, wet, sharp, and IN YO’ FACE. (Imagine being at the fair on a field after a storm, where the strong scent of wet grass and earth mingles with cotton candy, cocoa, and candied apples. That’s Angel.)
If you aren’t a huge fan of patchouli, you will probably hate this one.
Paco Rabanne Black XS pour Elle
Rock Chick in a bottle. This cranberry-cocoa-patchouli almost begs to be worn with a men’s T-shirt, skin-tight jeans, and stilettos. Not a tomboy, but not a girly-girl either.
It somehow manages to be both sweet and strong, yet fresh and powdery at the same time. The patchouli isn’t overly strong. Just a soft minty freshness under the tart berries and powdery vanillic heart.
Mariah Carey M
Bet you weren’t expecting to see this! I had to include it because it’s an interesting little number. It’s easy to dismiss it as another candy-like celeb scent, and I don’t see everyone liking it, but do give it a sniff if you haven’t.
This dries down to powdery, minty marshmallow, again courtesy of the very soft, fuzzy patchouli mixed in with the candy notes and light, powdery incense. The patchouli here isn’t strong or dirty-smelling at all. Just minty.
Jessica Simpson Fancy Nights
Ah, the VERY green, VERY earthy patchouli scent. If you aren’t at least tolerant of strong patchouli, I do NOT recommend this scent. This is very dry, dark, and herbal. The amber in it barely adds any sweetness.
Don’t expect something edible and creamy just because it has Jessica Simpson’s name on it. Fancy Nights is a complete departure from her other scents; quite mysterious and grown up. In the best possible way.
Scent snobs might shoot me for saying this but I think it has a passing resemblance to Chanel’s very exclusive, very expensive Coromandel.